graphic for The 2018 Index of Predictive Tools in HRTech: The Emergence of Intelligent Software


China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Please welcome China Gorman to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. China has held strategic leadership roles
in the human capital management sector over the last 25 years and currently heads up CMG Group. China was the Chief Operating Officer of SHRM and sits on the Advisory Board at RiseSmart. China is a sought-after speaker and thought leader in the human resources marketplace. Full Bio »

Apps Don’t Create Community

by China Gorman

“Community” is a word thrown around a lot in the HR space.

We hear about talent communities, employee communities, learning communities, and professional communities.  And they’re all powered by apps. Or at least that’s what we’re led to believe

The leading super consumer apps – FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn – have created the illusion that relationships created online are real relationships. They want you to believe you can create meaningful friendships, depend on them and, best of all, monetize them.

I think it’s horse pucky. The super apps are brilliant. No question. And they keep people connected. But they don’t create relationships.

I don’t believe real relationships are created online. I have thousands of Twitter followers. I have relationships with about 150 of them. True, I “met” some of these folks on Twitter. But until I met them face-to-face, or had a telephone conversation with them, I didn’t have a relationship with them. And after I met some face to face or had telephone conversations with them, I chose not to invest in a relationship. We’re connected. That’s all.

Same thing with FaceBook.  I’m connected to all manner of people – most of them I don’t know. Lots of them I used to know – from high school, college, former work places – but I don’t know them now and certainly haven’t invested in any type of a relationship. I also have lots of “friends” on FaceBook that I’ve never met and have no interest in meeting. We have “friends” in common and that’s it.

LinkedIn has a more defined purpose. Professional networking on LinkedIn has value to me in a way that being friends on FaceBook doesn’t – except with people who really are my friends. Networking and being willing to share professional information with people I don’t know is something I’ve done throughout my career. I’ve helped lots of strangers and lots of strangers have helped me over the last 30 years – with and without LinkedIn. Except that once we help each other we aren’t strangers any more. We have a real relationship. But that’s still not a majority of my connections on LinkedIn.

This is all to say that entities (individual or collective) that want to create community need to focus on creating relationships rather than generating mountains of connections via social technology apps. Thousands of followers, “friends,” and connections might make you feel like you’re part of something big and special, but they aren’t relationships. And I’d be hard pressed to call them a community.

So would John Sumser at HRxAnalysts. He just published The 2012 Index of Social Technology in HR and Recruiting.  It’s fascinating. His observations are spot on and his list of organizations providing social technology to HR, while not exhaustive – where is Achievers? – is certainly robust.

The big takeaway? Today, social technology and HR are about data. Pure and simple.

Social technology and HR aren’t yet about community building – although everyone thinks they are. In fact, Sumser characterizes social media technology for HR as “anti-social.”

“Much of what is called social media or social technology is really an emerging approach to being able to collect and use new forms of data.  …While the results are somewhat anti-social, organizations are developing an appetite for the information in social media sites.  That data helps clarify the characteristics of the human capital that an organization deploys.”


“While the promise of social technology is increased levels of intimacy between individuals and their world, the current reality has more to do with surveillance.”

Wow.  “(T)he results are somewhat anti-social….” “(T)he current reality has more to do with surveillance.”  Could we find two words more at odds with building community than anti-social and surveillance?

The thing is, I think he’s right.  HR sees the “promise” of social technology, but hasn’t yet figured out how to use it for much more than data collection. The “promise” of the power of communities is there. We can all see it. We can smell it. We can feel it. We want it so badly we can taste it.

And we’re looking to technology providers to help us get there.  As the HRxAnalyst report shows, there are a great many providers working on social technology applications for HR – many established firms and many more startups. But it would appear that within this sector, the applications are about data collection and analysis, not community creation and growth. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of data – especially as it relates to acquiring and managing people.  In fact, HR needs to get much more comfortable and facile with data.

But let’s all be real about this.  HR isn’t really creating communities through social technology apps.  HR is gathering a lot of data that it can’t yet put to work to engage its workforce and plan for the future.

The promise of social technology gets us all excited about the power of communities.  I wonder when that promise will be a reality.



graphic for The 2018 Index of Predictive Tools in HRTech: The Emergence of Intelligent Software

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  • Anonymous

    It’s true that much of this data isn’t being used to create community and in that, I agree with your and John’s premise. Where we differ is that I think the reality is closer than we think. The interaction and relationships DO have to come first and HAVE in every community in which I’ve been a part. But the information gathering part of the equation does help a good community manager and/or recruiter (many wear both hats admirably) reach out selectively and target content and conversation to those that will contribute the most and/or who will most benefit from both.

    You’re right in that only people can create communities, but the data and deeper understanding it can provide can help them get there. Great article!

  • There are very few real communities and the talent communities consist of usual suspects.  These do not typically do much with regard to outreach and rarely amount to more than list tracking.  At the end of the day an email list with a monthly news letter would have the same net effect on engagement.  China’s point is very refreshing, especially since she knows her stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Such a marvelous view of the Talent Community landscape.  I particularly love this point made by China and am in complete agreement: 

    “The “promise” of the power of communities is there. We can all see it. We can smell it. We can feel it. We want it so badly we can taste it.”

    When Talent Communities become all about relationship building, sharing ideas on upward career progression, bridging the gap between what a makes a person tick and what a company and its management is like to work for – then we’ll begin to realize that “promise” China refers to…

    When you reflect on how a relationship is built – common interests, cultural similarities, acceptable give & take and taking the relationship for a spin out in public – when all these steps return positive vibes, we typically have a new relationship.  If only our hiring process mirrored this process, just think of the successful hires we could make!  Every one of these steps can and are being built and available online today.  Once companies begin to realize that they need to change their “shot gun” approach, to hiring that’s based on Engagement and relationship development (ie – pre-hire prospect/candidate development), they will find that the tools are in place to make it a reality…and they’ll never look back!

  • Absolutely agreed with you China. This is a good dose of reality thrown
    over a lot of hype about the panacea of SM. As a recruiter it is my
    business to get to know the right strangers and the SM tools only help
    me in identifying and reaching out to them. So connecting to thousands
    of people over the various SM Platforms only helps me in reaching out to
    these “right” strangers.

    Vipul Agarwal


  • Jon Ingham, Social Advantage

    Community is about people, not technology. Apps etc can only help… And they do help. But the key enabler is the mindset of the people (including HR teams) involved in them. If you don’t think you’re going to develop relationships through Twitter then you won’t do so. If you think you will, then you can.

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